Ancient Faiths Of Hawaii

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Hawaiians claim descent from the Cushites of Arabia, and in their

folk-lore they have the same agreement with the Jewish myths which

we find so strangely in other tribes that seem to have no relation

to one another. Like the Israelites, they believed in a first pair

that forfeited paradise by sinning, and were put out of it. Like

the Israelites, they built temples and places of worship. Like the

Israelites, they practi
ed circumcision. Their priests and chiefs

were kin of the gods, and well may they have seemed so if it is true

that the kings of the islands were men whose height was nine feet,

and who flourished spears ten yards long. Even Kamehameha, who died

in 1819, and who was politically the greatest of these rulers, as he

established one government over all of the islands, is said to have

been a giant in strength.

Without compasses, guided only by sun and stars, the people made long

voyages in their canoes--vessels of a length of a hundred feet--and did

battle with other races, fighting with spears, slings, clubs, axes,

and knives, but not with bows or armor. Doubtless they exaggerate

their numbers and their heroism, and in the last great battle, by

which Kamehameha became ruler of the group, it may be that there

were not quite the sixteen thousand men he claimed to have when he

forced the troops of Oahu over the cliff of Nuuanu. The language of

Hawaii resembles the tongues spoken in the southern archipelagoes,

thereby bearing out the legend of early migrations. As, in the East,

we hear tales that seem to hark back to the lost Atlantis, so among

the Pacific tribes are faint beliefs in a continent in the greater

ocean that sank thousands of years ago, and of coral islands built on

its ruins that crumbled or were shaken down in their turn, albeit they

served their purpose as stepping-stones between the surviving groups.

The Columbus of Hawaii was Nanaula, a Polynesian chief, who reached

them in the sixth century, either blown upon them by gales or actuated

in a long search by love of adventure. He carried dogs, swine,

fowls, and seeds of food-plants, and for several centuries the people

increased, lived in comfort, and enjoyed the blessings of peace. Four

hundred years later a large emigration occurred from Samoa and the

Society group to these islands, and the new-comers proved to be the

stronger. Each island had its chief or chiefs until this century,

but their families had intermarried until a veritable aristocracy had

been set up, with a college of heraldry, if you please, that recorded

the ancestry brags of the Four Hundred. Captain Cook chanced on evil

days when his turn came to discover the islands again, for although

the people at first thought him to be the god Lono, they were so busy

hating each other that they had not time to extend as many courtesies

to him as they might have granted at some other period. When they

killed him he had incurred their wrath by his overbearing manner, his

contempt for their customs, and by trying to make prisoner of a chief

who was innocently pulling one of the ship's boats apart to get the

nails out. Juan Gaetano, a Spanish captain, sailing from Mexico to the

Spice Islands in 1555, is said to have discovered Hawaii, but he said

little about it. There are traditions of other white visitors likewise.

While Christian missionaries claimed to have worked the moral

regeneration of the islands, the Martin Luther of the group anticipated

them by half a year. Liholiho--that was his name--publicly kicked

the idols, burned the temples, ate from the dishes of women, and

defied the taboo. So soon as the natives discovered that the sea

did not rise nor the sky fall, they rejoiced exceeding, and when one

of the priests gathered an army and mutinied against the new order,

they vehemently suppressed him. Yet the gods whom this soldier-priest

defended are said to lament his fall in battle, and the south wind,

stirring the shrubbery about his grave, is often heard to sob. The

first missionaries were Yankees. They made some converts, acquired

real estate, their example and teaching in political and industrial

matters were profitably heeded, and peace and prosperity returned to

the islands. Catholic missionaries were forbidden by the government

to land until 1839, when they were put ashore under the guns of a

French man-of-war, and have remained in safety ever since.

The religious faith that white men drove from Hawaii, or think they

did, is based on the customary moral precepts, while the theogeny

comprehends a trinity, composed of Kane, who plans and who lives in

the east; Ku, who builds, and Lono, who directs. These three gods in

one, who had existed from the beginning, created light; next they

built the three heavens; they then made the earth, sun, moon, and

stars. The angels were spat from their mouths, and after the fruitless

or experimental creation of Welahilana and Owe, the chief god, Kane,

with his saliva, mixed with red earth, made the first man, Kumuhonua,

and from his rib took the first woman, Keolakuhonua. These parents of

the race were put into a beautiful garden, divided by three rivers that

had their source in a lake of living water, which would bring the dead

to life when sprinkled over them, and which was filled with fish that

fire could not destroy. This living water was found again, ages after,

by Kamapikai, who led some of the Hawaiians back to it that they might

bathe, and they emerged young, strong, and handsome; but from their

third voyage to the lake they never returned. In the garden stood

a bread-fruit tree and an apple tree, both taboo. Whether Kanaloa,

the rebellious angel, persuaded the first pair to pluck the forbidden

fruit, or whether he wrought their downfall in some other fashion,

we do not know; but he was angry because they refused to worship him,

and because the man whom he had created could neither rise nor speak;

so, in the form of a lizard, he went into the garden and beguiled the

pair. Kane sent a large white bird and drove them out. Of the three

sons of the parents of the race the elder slew the second, and in

the thirteenth generation came the deluge, from which Nuu was saved,

for at the command of Kane he built an ark, took refuge in it with his

family, and, with pairs of every species of bird, beast, and reptile,

was released by the gods after the water had gone down, and found

that his ark was resting on the top of Mauna Loa. The rainbow was the

stair by which Kane descended to him, and it was left in the sky as a

token of forgiveness. As the history proceeds we recognize the story

of Abraham, and of Joseph and his brethren, and the likeness to the

Bible narrative ceases after an account of the long wanderings and

troubles of the people in their search for the land set apart for

them by Kane,--a search in which they were led by two brothers.

It was only in the eleventh century that the priesthood became a power,

exalted itself above the kings, prescribed senseless ceremonials and

forms of worship, invented so many gods that they often forgot the

names of them, and devised the prohibition, or taboo, the meaning

of that word being "Obey or die." Among these gods none are more

curious than the stones of Kaloa beach, Ninole, Hawaii. The natives,

who believed that they had sex, and propagated, chose male specimens

for their household deities. In order to make sure whether or not they

were really gods, the stones were blessed in a temple, wrapped in a

dress, and taken to see a game of skill or strength. If the owner of

the god won he gave to the piece of stone the credit for his victory

and established it in his house; but if he lost, the stone was thrown

aside. If the believer wanted to make sure of finding a god he would

take a beach pebble of each sex, wrap the two in cloth, and put them

away for a time. When they were brought back to the light a smaller

pebble, the result of their union, was found with them. This grew,

like an animal, until it was of a size to be blessed by the priests and

formally declared to be a god. The original pebbles are of black trap,

compact lava, and white coral. Beside the gods there were spirits that

could be called from the grave by wizards, although this power rested

only with the strongest and most righteous of the class. The soul of a

living creature might also leave his body and exhibit itself to one at

a distance, as Margrave projected his luminous apparition in Bulwer's

"Strange Story."

It was the gods of the second rank, however, that seemed most busy

for good or mischief in human affairs: such gods as Pele, the spirit

of the volcanoes, with her five brothers and eight sisters who lived

in the flaming caverns of Kilauea; or as Kalaipahoa, poison-goddess

of Molokai, and her two sisters, who put a bane on the trees so deadly

that they rivalled the fabled Upas of Java, and birds fell lifeless as

they attempted to fly above them (a volcanic sulphur vent was probably

the origin of this tale); or, as Kuahana, who slew men for sport;

or, as Pohakaa, who rolled rocks down the mountains to scare and hurt

travellers; or, as the shark and lizard gods that lashed the sea into

storms and wrecked canoes. War gods of wood were carried in battle,

among them the fierce-looking image of Kalaipahoa, born in the van of

the army of Kamehameha, and made at a cost of many lives from one of

the trees poisoned by that goddess. Its fragments were divided among

his people after the king's death. Apropos of this figure, a gamester

had lost everything except a pig, which he did not dare to stake,

as it had been claimed for a sacrifice by a priest with a porkly

appetite. At the command of a deity, however, who appeared in his

dreams, he disregarded the taboo and wagered the pig next day. Being

successful in his play, he in thankfulness offered half of his gains

to the deity. This god appeared on a second night and told him that if

the king would make an idol of a certain wood growing near she would

breathe power into it, and would make the gambler her priest. So the

king ordered a tree to be cut. As the chips flew into the faces of

the choppers they fell dead. Others, covering their bodies with cloth

and their faces with leaves, managed to hew off a piece as large as

a child's body, and from this the statue was carved with daggers,

held at arm's-length; and Kalaipahoa means Dagger-cut. Another god

of the great king was Kaili, which was of wood with a head-dress of

yellow feathers. This image uttered yells of encouragement that could

be heard above the din of conflict.

Statues of the gods were kept in walled enclosures, sometimes four

or five acres in extent, within which stood the temples and altars of

sacrifice, and there the people read the fates, as did the Greek and

Roman soothsayers, in the shapes of clouds and the forms and colors of

entrails of birds or of pigs killed on the altars. Human sacrifices

were offered on important occasions, but always of men,--never of

women or children. If no criminals or prisoners were available,

the first gardener or fisherman was captured, knocked on the head,

and his body left to decay on the altar. Oil and holy water were

used to anoint the altar and sacred objects, and when a temple was

newly finished its altar was piled with the dead. There is a striking

universality among people in the brutal stage of development in this

practice of pacifying their deities by murder. When a king or high

priest offered a sacrifice of a foeman the butcher gouged the left eye

from the body and gave it to his superior, who pretended to eat it. If

a victim succeeded in escaping to a temple of refuge he was safe,

even though he had killed a king or slapped the chops of a wooden god.

All over the islands are natural monuments associated with instances

that prove the faith of the people in gods, fiends, spirits, and

heroes. At Mana Beach the "barking" or whistling of the sands under

the tread is held to be the wailing of buried Hawaiians, complaining

that they are disturbed. Here, too, dwells the ghost of the giant

Kamalimaloa, rising through the earth with spear and helmet at certain

seasons and seeking two beautiful girls who scorned him in life, and

whom he is doomed never to meet in death. Holes and caves that abound

in the lava--old craters, bubbles, and steam-vents--also have their

stories. On Kauai they show a series called Pele's Jumps, because when

the fire-goddess was driven from that island by the water-gods she

made three long steps in the soft crust before undertaking the final

leap that landed her on the slope of Kilauea. Each of these pits would

hold a hotel. Another chasm was made by pulling a monster turtle out

of his lair, while he slept, with the intent of eating him. This pit

is thousands of cubic yards in extent, and the turtle may be seen on

a neighboring mountain, turned to stone by the curses of the chief

from whom he tried to sneak away when he noticed that preparations

for cooking were forward. Near the famous Hanapepe Falls is the cave

of Makaopihi, variously regarded as a chief, a devil, and a god, who

took refuge here from his enemies, but every now and then showed his

contempt for them by going down the long slope that is still called

his slide,--a recreation that to an ordinary mortal would mean death.

It is curious, if not significant, that in the language of Tahiti,

which is related to that of these islands, Maui appears, not as a

place, but as a sun god who destroyed his enemies with a jaw-bone,

while the word hawaii means hell. Strange, indeed, that one of the

most heavenly corners of the earth should have taken on a name like

that. The volcanoes may have terrified the early comers to such a

degree that it seemed the only fitting one if they chanced to arrive

in the time of an eruption.